Overcoming staff shortages needs new approach

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 12:00 28/08/2014

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District health boards urgently need to think outside the square to alleviate a chronic shortage of specialists in public hospitals, a Manawatu nursing expert says.

New Zealand's public health system is under pressure with people struggling to get on waiting lists to see specialists, senior doctors working longer and harder to cover staff shortages, hospitals struggling to retain staff, and a reliance on international medical graduates, a report released by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says.

Massey University Professor of Nursing Jenny Carryer said there was an urgent and long overdue need to "think outside the square" to alleviate stress on the system.

"The supply of nurses in New Zealand is not diminishing . . . Many nurse roles, especially the nurse practitioner role, if more effectively utilised and deployed, could be used to reduce dependence on medical specialists," she said.

Nurse practitioners could and already did take some of the workload off specialists, which freed up those specialists to use their time more effectively, Carryer said.

"The problem is that district health boards are strangely reluctant to support candidates for the nurse practitioner positions and to create employment opportunities.

"They seem happier to keep hunting for specialists around the world without seriously developing local willing capacity," she said.

Carryer said the health sector needed to seriously attend to helping people to be healthy through greater attention to poverty, housing, nutrition and health education.

"It is enormously foolish that we ignore the basic social conditions which threaten people's health whilst wringing our hands about the health workforce crisis."

The report, titled Taking the temperature of the public hospital specialist workforce, says many New Zealand doctors leave the country to work overseas, resulting in a strong reliance on international staff who are hard to retain, with many working on short-term contracts.

The association's national secretary, Jeff Brown, who is also the MidCentral clinical director of children's health, said that in Manawatu the district health board was having to do more and for no extra money.

Brown said there needed to be an increase in the co-ordination and planning between medical schools and hospitals to tackle the specialist shortage when the current workforce retired.

"For us in the Manawatu it's about how we get people to come work here and not Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch."

Brown said utilising nurses further was part of the solution and that was already happening in MidCentral.

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- Manawatu Standard

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